No. 687

249.1111–Oatis, William/7–451: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Briggs) to the Secretary of State 1


19. Re Embtel July 3 sent Dept 12 HICOG 9.2 Emb comments on first day Oatis trial3 equally applicable to whole trial except as noted hereafter. Fol based on whole trial:

Case against Oatis rests on acceptance all-embracing Commie definition espionage. Prosecution failed link him with any activity not normal activity newspaperman according western standard.
Proceedings afforded new opportunity propaganda smear campaign directed primarily against US and Emb, but also including other Western diplomats. It constitutes one of govt’s periodic efforts discourage subversive activities Czech people. Also basis established for further hostile action govt may wish take against this mission, such as declaring MilAtt PNG. In addition leaders regime may think trial earned them kudos in Kremlin where there may well be concern over ability present Czech leaders cope with situation as unearthed in Sling affair and in Slovakia. Emphasis on alleged interest Amer espionage apparatus in Sling, Svermova, dementis case4 is further evidence effort may later be made implicate US with them.
Primary specific objective trial apparently reduce operations Western news agencies to point where they serve only as centers transmitting official hand-outs which wld then be published abroad under Western news agency by-line and Praha dateline. Czechs might consider ideal situation here Western press offices operate with Czech staffs only, as now. Choice Oatis for trial rather than [Page 1379] one of his colleagues probably because he used his Czech staff more actively in obtaining news and because govt had some evidence his Czech staff was vulnerable in view their apparent knowledge of murder security officer.
Canned nature of trial obvious, for example, translators so efficient that on several occasions they translated a sentence that had not yet been spoken.
Re Emb comment numbered para 5 Embtel 12 that Oatis gave impression he might be trying improve his position by cooperating with prosecutor, subsequent sessions failed support this interpretation. Oatis throughout simply stuck to prepared script learned beforehand. His delivery at times (as with his final statement expressing sorrow and repentance yesterday afternoon) seemed so deliberately limp and mechanical as to leave no doubt text memorized in advance.
Ref in sentence to Oatis expulsion only after serving sentence probably does not preclude possibility expulsion any time Czech govt shld decide take such action, as in Louwers case.

  1. Repeated to Frankfurt.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Regarding the Oatis trial, see the editorial note, supra.
  4. See telegram 546 from Praha, Document 668.